reviews and reader comments.
During the year 2000, the number of sunspots reached the peak
of their 11-year cycle, the 23rd such cycle since scientists
first discovered the dark solar blotches. So what? As Odenwald,
a NASA staffer and Washington Post contributor (The Astronomy
Cafe), and other scientists expected, this proliferation of
solar storms produced marked effects on Earth, including an
increase in the intensity and extent of auroras. Odenwald
warns that the 23rd cycle may also produce other, less welcome
effects before it reaches its quiescent end in 2006, and the
24th cycle will be even more problematic. His prediction is
based on the increasing vulnerability of advanced technology
to space weather phenomena, such as bursts of X-rays and energetic
particles or geomagnetic storms. The failure of satellites
and even gas pipelines have been attributed to the impact
of solar storms; given our increasingly networked digital
infrastructure and our growing reliance on space-based technology,
Odenwald foresees future problems with communication, navigation
and electric power grids, all subject to sudden failure from
events that begin on the sun. Astronauts may suffer radiation
sickness--even death-- if caught without warning or sufficient
protection. The problems are sociological and political as
well as technological, Odenwald asserts. As space-based business
proliferates, it is often advantageous to hide small failures
due to space weather or to attribute them to other causes.
Practical technological needs carry little weight when NASA
funding depends on scientific merit, Odenwald declares, calling
for more funding to understand and predict space weather.
"The sun is not the well-behaved neighbor we would like
to imagine," he says. Odenwald offers a cogent warning,
which deserves to have an impact beyond the book's own immediate
readership of space science enthusiasts. B&w and color
illus. not seen by PW.
Cahners Business Information, Inc.
With the Sun about halfway through its 23rd sunspot cycle
since the 18th century, there is a chance that solar flares
and coronal mass ejections (giant bubbles of hot gas erupting
from the Sun) will affect the Earth's atmosphere and magnetic
field during the next few years. Though the effects might
be limited to relatively benign auroras in remote regions,
there is a small probability that sufficiently powerful solar
outbursts could permanently disable communications satellites
and black out entire regions of the global electrical power
grid. Such disruptions are so infrequent that most satellite
owners and electrical utilities have opted not to invest in
protective technology, but if they do occur the economic consequences
could be severe. This book presents an interesting explanation
of this phenomenon, but, surprisingly, it is much more technical
than one might expect from Odenwald, author of the Astronomy
Cafe web site and book. Libraries seeking more general titles
should consider From the Sun: Auroras, Magnetic Storms, Solar
Flares, Cosmic Rays (American Geophysical Union, 1998) or
Kenneth R. Lang's Sun, Earth and Sky (Copernicus: Springer-Verlag,
1997). For astronomy, space science, and engineering collections.DNancy
R. Curtis, Univ. of Maine Lib., Orono
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
John R. Keller (Houston, TX United States)
If I could give
this book three and a half stars I would, but since I think
some people could find it more interesting than I did, I gave
it four stars.
This book describes the sun's eleven-year cycle of highs and
lows in sun spot activity. While the mechanism, which produces
these sun spots, is not well understand, what well known is
that the sun produces vast amounts of high energy particles
(radiation), both continuously and in bursts which ultimately
affects the Earth's magnetic field and life on Earth. The
book focused on how past solar magnetic storms have affected
the power grid system and the geostationary satellites. Finally,
the author makes some predictions on the upcoming solar maximum
in the year 2001 and its potential for life on Earth. I should
point out that the author is an astronomer and makes his predictions
based on data and past experiences and not is some doomsayer
trying to make a quick buck.
There are also
several extremely interesting chapters on the effects of solar
magnetic storms on the modern day life. One chapter shows
that in 1989, a solar magnetic storm shut down a good portion
of the Canadian electrical power grid, leaving some people
without power for several days. The chapter on the effects
of radiation on the human body was very enlightening. For
example, this chapter shows that living in high altitude location
like Denver was similar to receiving several chest X-rays
a year. Also, radiation from cosmic sources was significantly
greater than that received from living next to a nuclear power
Good introduction for general science
readers, July 15, 2001
By Robert L. Estes (Nashville, TN USA)
topic, though I judged the coverage to be uneven. Readers
wanting an update about solar physics will be disappointed
by a lack of details; but this can be supplemented by a visit
to NASAs solar physics Web pages.... Policy-makers should
be impressed by the real and potential economic fallout from
massive solar plasma discharges; but some of Odenwalds
detailed examples illustrate a coincidental rather than true
cause-and-effect relation of solar events to Earth-based calamities.
The Exon Valdez disaster is discussed at length before being
dismissed, and is referenced later. Several pages detail inconveniences
due to a power blackout in the D.C. area which had nothing
to do with unusual solar activity. I found these references
obtuse I would have greatly preferred to see more information
about the sun.
Still, the books final chapter is particularly illuminating,
detailing current activities and difficulties for space weather
researchers seeking project funding in competition with higher
profile but much less utilitarian activities such as cosmology.
This is followed by several interesting notes
which provide a few more details about certain chapter topics.
The last few pages quote astronomers describing stars seemingly
similar to our sun which periodically emit massively greater
plasma discharges, enough to literally fry our little world
in an instant. Why is our sun different? This is really getting
interesting! You turn the page, and thats it
end of story.
intent is to increase awareness about real and potential economic
and personal safety issues related to variable solar activity.
His book serves as a useful starting point for interested
general science readers. Those seeking in-depth coverage of
this topic will need to look elsewhere, starting with papers
and documents listed in the lengthy bibliography.
Not what I expected, but not bad, October
Reviewer: A reader
When I saw the
title of this book, I had images of butterfly diagrams, an
adequate amount of astrophysics and space physics, etc. However,
the book's subtitle, "Learning to Live with a Stormy
Star" was a much better clue as to the book's contents.
Although some stellar/space science is briefly discussed,
the main theme of the book is centered on sociological hardships,
financial losses, research budgets, business interests, etc.,
all pertaining to our periodically stormy sun. Especially
highlighted are: the survival of expensive satellites in space
during less than ideal space weather, the sociological effects
of their loss and the effects of this weather on power grids
on earth. But my unfulfilled expectations and resulting disappointment
should not result in a poor rating for this book. It is well
written, very informative and seems to thoroughly cover, I
think, what it was apparently intended to cover - hence my
rating of 4 stars.